On this most holy day in christiandom I publish this article, not as an slam against Christians but to make everyone aware that being Christian is more than saying so. It means living as Christ would want us, to respect all faiths and love all our brothers and sisters unconditionally, and to live in peace. May the spirit of Christmas be with you and your families throughout the year!
This is a guest blog from a friend, Jon Stern, a writer and educator, and a father of two young boys trying to raise them in his faith in America, the land of religious freedom and tolerance. It poignantly reveals some of the difficulties faced by non-christian families from the inherent bias of the majority. He makes his point brilliantly.
I write it for neither sympathy nor comment. I write it as a father and a human being. For those of you who decide to read all of it, I thank you, for those who don’t, I understand; either way, maybe we will finally understand that words, and the meaning behind those words are the most powerful weapons we have in our arsenal.
Those who know me know I love to play the devil’s advocate. Take the opposing side and see if I can persuade; for those who know me, you know I find religion fascinating. I am a Jew by birth, but more importantly, a Jew by choice. In my teens, like most teenagers, I was lost, spent a year and a half going to church, and considered myself “born again.” Latter, I found enlightenment in the teachings of Siddhartha, and realized that there are many ways to G-d. I had a friend that was Muslim and discovered we are more a like the different, and again, understood that there are many ways to G-d, and those who think they have the only path are unfortunate. In high school, I took communion at St. Anthony’s every year before football season out of respect for my football team and the friends who I love now as I did then; I found joy in my heart for the priest who not only knew I was a Jew, but embraced me every fall. I know anti-Semitism first hand, I grew-up around it (and I don’t mean to point fingers at my friends, for their words were as harsh as mine when we argued – but they always had my back, and to this day, they still do!), but whenever I wanted, I could assimilate, but tonight I couldn’t, and tonight it all hit home.
My children are from a biracial home, and out of love, my wife has agreed to let Judaism be the influential religion for my children. I have never ignored their questions about Jesus, or Christmas, always responding with respect— after all, Jesus was a Jew, and put to task those who had fallen from the ideology of Judaism-he was called Rabbi. Tonight, my eldest son, who joined choir, had their Christmas performance at a Baptist Church. Yes, I do have a problem with my tax dollars paying so students can perform a Christmas Concerts, in a Baptist Church, especially when Muslims, Jews, and Buddhist attend the district. I believe a good school district would embrace all faiths, but this was not the case. Halfway through the concert, the teacher, whom I pay his salary, introduces a song. He explains the song is about how the Jew King, Herod ordered his soldiers to kill the first born because the King of Kings was born (sounds a lot like the story of Moses) and he said some other things, which upset me. I looked over at my son, and he put his head down. For the next 45 minutes, he looked as if he was just a tired child being forced to do something that he didn’t want to-he was crying. After the concert, he ran out. When I asked what was wrong, he said he didn’t feel comfortable in a church, but I pressed him. Finally, he told me the truth: he said he was upset about what the teacher said. He informed me that he wants to be Jewish. Whatever he was feeling was from his heart – tonight, maybe G-d spoke to him like He did to me as I was on my religious journey. I was sitting in a synagogue in Tempe, Arizona, and as the congregation sang I song, I started to weep. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and in a European Jewish accent of age and experience, the voice said, “Velcome Home!”
Yes, I am happy that my son chose to follow the path of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but I am not happy about his tears; I am not happy that my money goes to a one-sided belief system; I am not happy that my son should feel pain when he was there to support his brother. I can argue religion with the best of you. But I pose this question: How many people need to die in the name of their faith (your faith) and their belief system (your belief system). If you truly believe that G-d wanted the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the Terrorist Attacks, then I don’t want anything to do with your god (yes, I didn’t capitalizes it for a reason). Maybe tonight is a Mitzvoth, but to see my son cry, to feel uncomfortable in a place of G-d, pisses me off. Watch your words. Understand that what you believe isn’t the only belief system in the world; understand that most religions believe in the same basic principles. Acknowledge that if it weren’t for US, Jews, there would be no Christianity or Islam. We are YOUR foundation. Remember Xmas is a pagan holiday, that Jesus wasn’t born in Dec., but late September, early October, and that his “Hair is of wool, and skin of burnt cooper” which means he was dark. Remember, that Jesus was a Jew. That he wouldn’t eat your Xmas ham, or decorated your Xmas Tree, but the light the Menorah. Remember that Santa Clause and ornaments are from pagan holidays; that praying to Saints breaks the Shema: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad – Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one”, found in Deuteronomy 6:4. By praying to anyone but G-d, you break the first three of the Ten Commandments (and by the way there are 613 commandments in the Torah); remember that if Jesus came to my town, he would go to Shul, not Church; celebrate Peasch, not Easter, Chanukah, not Xmas – he wouldn’t understand your faith, or celebrate it. Remember that you don’t hold dominion over G-d. Remember that there are many ways to the Lord, and don’t be so ignorant that your way is the only way.
Jon Stern is a college professor in the English and Creative Writing program at a University in the western U. S., and he is a fellow writer.